Justin Falk was enjoying a day off with his wife and daughter in Minnesota when he received the call that the hectic, frantic comings-and-goings of the NHL’s trade deadline were going to include him, too.
“I had the day off with the family, the wife and daughter, and I got the call that it happened," he said. "So you do what you can to throw what you need together in a suitcase, and away you go.”
The 6-foot-5 Manitoba-born defenseman was heading off to Columbus in the deal that returned Jordan Leopold to his native Minnesota. For Leopold, it was a chance to go home, but for Falk, the deal is another opportunity to nail down a full-time role in the National Hockey League.
Falk is in his seventh season in the league, breaking in during the 2009-10 season for three games and playing two separate stints in Minnesota sandwiched around one season with the New York Rangers. During that time, Falk has never played more than 47 games in a season. He played 13 games in Minnesota this season and 39 games with AHL Iowa.
While Tuesday night was Falk’s Jackets debut and his steps in his new start, it wasn’t his first debut playing in front of the fans at Nationwide Arena -- ironically, he made his NHL debut on Mar. 19, 2010 in Columbus.
“I got a concussion halfway through," he said. "Welcome to the NHL.”
On that night, he was playing for then-Minnesota head coach Todd Richards. Now he joins Richards once again in Columbus with a chance to fill a role on a Blue Jackets defense that has windows of opportunity after two deadline day trades.
“If a team trades for you, then they’re willing to give you a look and an opportunity," Falk said. "I’m hoping to get my feet under me and get comfortable with the guys here and take it from there.
“I play hard, strong, physical game. I’m a strong defender with a good stick, and I trust my skating. I’m a decent skater for a big guy, so I’m looking to be hard to play against.”
That’s certainly what fans saw in Falk’s Jackets debut on Tuesday night against Washington. Falk played 13 minutes paired with a similar physical defenseman in Dalton Prout, dishing out two hits and a fighting major in his first game for Columbus.
“I’ve had Justin before in Minnesota, so I have a bit of an understanding,” said Richards. “I’m sure his game has developed. He’s a big guy that skates pretty well and has some good puck skill as far as passing. First and foremost he needs to be a good defender, and that’s what we’ll expect from him.”
It was a solid outing for Falk, who said he didn’t really know anyone from the team before arriving. Nor did he have all of his regular gear.
“I get to go right to work and grab a mixture of equipment here and make it work,” he said with a laugh.
It’s worth the whirlwind couple of days for Falk to get a big opportunity in Columbus. Kevin Connauton got a similar chance with the Jackets earlier this season as a waiver claim, and he has made the most of it (though he's currently sidelined with a lower body injury). Falk hopes that he can use this chance to solidify his NHL career much the same way.
“It’s an opportunity for myself," he said. "I’m looking to come in and work hard and control what I can control. It’s a great group of guys from what I’ve seen in meeting them. I’m looking forward to going to battle with them.”